By Trent Rentsch
The voice should’ve been the first tip-off. When someone is overly perky in the midst of disaster, something is not right. The ice had covered hundreds of miles of power lines, and in turn the power lines were doing their own version of snap, crackle and pop. By morning Mother Nature was serving up a heaping mess of power outages for breakfast, and nearly 2 million people were huddled in the cold, ears turned to the only source of information possible. Of course the morning team knew that this is what radio is really all about, answering the needs of their audience by providing vital information. That is why they contacted the Power Company. That’s why spokesperson Ms. Perky was on the air, lying.
Three possible reasons why. One, she was silly enough to open her mouth before she got the correct information. Two, she had been fed incorrect information. Three, she had the correct information but feared that people couldn’t handle the cold, hard truth. Whatever the reason, stupid, manipulated, or manipulating, there she was, assuring our listeners that all who were supplied power by her company would regain that privilege by midnight. That was Thursday. As I write this, it is Monday, and thousands are still without power. To say that those still without juice are angry and feel neglected is an understatement. To say that at least some of that frustration might have been avoided with realistic statements from the Power Company is, possible. Then again, if Ms. Perky lied because she felt that people couldn’t handle the truth, she may have been on to something.
My friend Tom says that society was living in virtual reality long before there was a computer on every desktop. He contends that people are creating their own world… seeing, hearing, living things not as they are, but as they want them to be. When confronted with any truth that changes the orbit of their world, it’s offensive and unwelcome. That’s right, the TRUTH is unwelcome. Let’s take the example of those powerless people. If they had a choice on Thursday of being told that their power would come back at midnight or nearly a week later, which do you think they would choose?
The concept of visualization is a good one. A person decides what they want and sets goals to achieve it. But somewhere down the self-help trail, people have become convinced that there is a shortcut. You want it all; you can have it! You deserve it; it’s yours! Goals, work… why? It’s all waiting for you, NOW! Honestly, who ever gave people the idea that they were God-like, that everything they ever dreamed of, and some things they had never dreamed of, were only a heartbeat away? If you said “Advertising,” you win a new car, a mansion in Beverly Hills, and a billion dollars!!! Actually, all you’ll really get is my undying gratitude for reading my column this far, but you get the point.
From promising the nation that it can “have it your way,” to locally promising the “highest quality at the lowest prices,” for years advertising has fed the beast. Over and over the same message, “You are the best. You deserve the best. You shouldn’t have to pay for the best.” No wonder our expectations are out of whack. But, that’s just the way it is. Brand loyalty doesn’t exist any more. A company, product or service is only as good as what it can deliver now. Past is past and future might be served better by someone else. My friend Tom might consider that a very Zen way of looking at life. I see it as trying to complete a journey of a thousand miles with a single step.
Still, I’ve come not to mock Advertising, but to praise it. At its best, Advertising has provided people with options and saved them money and time. It provides a voice for a business, a way for a company to shout, “Hey! We’re here,” to potential customers that otherwise might never drive their way. It can be a solution, to both the business looking for customers, and customers trying to find a particular product or service. It’s more than just an industry of hype and image, or at least it can be.
Because these things go in cycles, I’d like to suggest that we start turning the wheel. Avoid phony testimonials, insincere sincerity, over-the-top bombastic screaming spots. Sharp, clear, concise copy writing and well-mixed production should be the norm, not the exception. Exaggeration should be a tongue in cheek device, not bait to reel in customers. Getting the message out there does not have to be a smoke and mirrors proposition. Our society may have become somewhat shallow, but it’s not stupid. If people are told the truth, they can decide if the product or service provided in the ad will fit the needs of their world. It’s unrealistic to be all things to all people, but if a solid message represents a solid company, it will have customers. Any Creative who writes and produces commercials has it in them to make the change happen, even if it’s a painfully slow process. Even if only one spot in 99 is something better, it’s worth the effort.
The world has changed. Companies that were looked upon as incredibly solid have crumbled. Investments that seemed a sure thing, weren’t. Empty promises are a liability to a business. People are wary, convinced that the world is looking to rip them off. Imagine what a promise kept could mean to a customer, jaded by the economic turmoil of the past 2 years. Make sure your commercials tell the truth. My friend Tom would call that common sense. I call it giving power back to the people.